J&K’s toll plaza story; violates fee rules, makes it first Union Territory with toll posts

Syed Junaid Hashmi

JAMMU, Oct 13: Ranked 18th in the country on Per Capita Income Basis and facing terrible economic meltdown due to situation in Kashmir valley, Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir will soon have three toll plazas operational within a distance 119 kilometres in breach of the National Highway Fee Rules framed in the year 2008.

Not only will Jammu region have three toll plazas but also the fee charged would be Rs. 435 for a two-way travel to be completed within 24 hours. One-way toll would be Rs. 85 for Lakhanpur toll plaza, Rs. 65 for Thandi Khui Toll Plaza and Rs. 135 for Bann Toll Plaza. Moreover, if one wishes to cross over to Doda or Kashmir, Chenani-Nashri tunnel, which is in terrible shape despite being dedicated to the Nation, would take out additional Rs. 65 for one-way travel and Rs. 90 for two-way travel.

Thus, One will have to spend more than Rs. 500 for travelling to Kashmir or Doda if he/she is coming from outside the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which would be Union Territory on November 1. Fee (Determination of Rates and Collection) Rules 2008 stipulate that a toll plaza cannot come up on the same section of the National Highway and in the same direction within a distance of 60 kilometres where a toll plaza is already functioning.

Though the rules do say that the executing authority, which is NHAI in this case, has powers to set-up another toll plaza within a distance of 60 kilometres only if the same is for the collection of fee for permanent bridge or bypass or tunnel. However, the rules make it clear that NHAI must explain in writing why it is setting up the toll plaza within 60 kilometres of another already existing toll plaza. A copy of these rules is available with TSL News besides being available on the website of the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI).

What makes this toll plaza story of Jammu and Kashmir interesting is the fact that Jammu and Kashmir is a disturbed border state and would be a disturbed border Union Territory after November 1, 2019 until the time borders do not fall silent completely and state becomes terrorist free. Movement of heavy trucks for Kashmir region with a population of 85 Lakh alongside trucks, buses, Cars, Jeeps and other vehicles of Army, Paramilitary, BSF, ITBP and other forces is much higher than what is seen in the rest of the country barring North-East.

It needs to be mentioned here that a look at the NHAI map of toll plazas shows that there is virtually no functional toll plaza in Northeast, primarily because North-East too has seen disturbances for a long time. There are no toll plazas in Union Territories and those in Chandigarh and New Delhi are actually not functioning within the Union Territory. Hence, J&K would become the first Union Territory in the country with toll plazas on all the national highways.

Experts maintains that roads get damaged due to this vehicular movement but when it comes to paying toll for maintenance of roads, it is selected population of Samba, Kathua, Jammu, Reasi and to some extent Udhampur districts, which is paying and will pay toll at these plazas. Those residing within 20 kilometres have been exempted from paying toll, thus ensuring that the locals do not create trouble and the local politicians are kept in good humour. That is why a selected population is paying toll and contributing in nation building.

Apart from the ones residing beyond 20 kilometres, the toll fee is paid by pilgrims who come from all over the country for the pilgrimage to Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine in Katra or for annual Amarnath Yatra to Kashmir. BJP and its affiliate organisations had launched a movement against the nominal toll tax which Jammu and Kashmir government used to charge at the Lakhanpur border. Peeved with the toll tax, they would call it ‘Jaziya’, a per capita yearly taxation historically levied in the form of financial charge on permanent non-Muslim subjects of a state governed by Islamic law in order to fund public expenditures of the state, in place of the Zakat and Khums that Muslims are obliged to pay.

BJP, which resisted construction of toll plaza in Samba-Kathua districts for last 7 years, has written a letter to the Union Minister for Roads, Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari pleading for winding-up the toll plazas at Thandikhui in Samba district and desisting from constructing one at Lakhanpur in Kathua district. The same BJP in the year 2014 when Congress-led UPA was in power damaged the toll booths in Sarore and prevented NHAI from making toll plaza functional.

On May 7, 2014, the then BJP State senior vice-president Chander Prakash Ganga who later served as Minister in the PDP-BJP coalition government alongwith former district president Keshav Dutt Sharma and BJP Vijaypur block president Tarsem Lal held a violent protest at this site only. This led to NHAI abandoning the site and desisting from constructing toll plaza. Now, when the BJP is in power in the centre, the same BJP leaders are talking about importance of contribution in nation building.